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  • Is our higher education keeping up with changing student demographics?
  • Posted By:
  • Tom A.
  • Posted On:
  • 09-Jan-2015
  • As compared to a few decades ago, the college going student profile of today is hugely different. In olden times, an 18 year old completed high school and moved directly into the college campus. Today’s students are racially and socio economically diverse and are also much more experienced and older as compared to their traditional peers.

    This is an emerging new reality not quite acknowledged yet by our higher education system. This has proved to be very detrimental to the overall progress of our students. For example, the way we deliver education and instruction, measure student learning and market college experience looks very similar to what was adopted decades ago. One of the major reasons why many students are falling into debts and dropping out of college at high rates is because of how we continue to cling to outdated models.

    This is a pressing issue focused upon by many institutes. It was also highlighted in the IWPR or Institute for Women’s Policy Research report released recently. According to this report, at least 4.8 million students in our country have families and support a spouse and dependent children and more than 2.5 million students are single parents.

    Our nation college completion average is a meagre 54%. Compared to this, only 33% of students who have children complete their degrees within 6 years. Non-parent students carry an average student debt load of around $25,169 while students with children are steeped in an average debt of $28,350.

    Armed with such alarming data, isn’t it time for our educators, policymakers, stakeholders and employers to redesign our higher education system? This is the only way we can close the talent gap in our country and also enhance college attainment rates.

    Today, higher education is accessible to almost everyone as compared to decades ago when some students lacked the opportunity to go to college. In order to create a population better equipped to handle the future, we must create a higher education system that works efficiently for educators, students and employers.

    By the year 2020, some form of postsecondary education will be required for at least 65% of jobs. If you look at the statistics, you can see that four or two year degrees today are held by less than 40% Americans. It is time to focus and create a system centered on student needs.

    So, what are the steps we can take towards initiating such a system? Firstly, financial aid impact must necessarily be maximized. The application process must be simplified to enable more number of students to access financial aid.

    Colleges must ensure that only students with most financial need must benefit from grants, loans and tax credits. Students who complete their degrees through rapid progress must be rewarded with incentives to encourage more students. Advanced college attainment must be benefited by deployment of workforce development funds and other public resources designed to promote career success.

    Instead of measuring classroom time, student learning must be focused upon. Assessment based on credit hours is definitely an outdated model considering the fast changing student demographics. Last but not the least; high quality instruction must be democratized.


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